This column examines the elephant in the room that the masters of industry and data have been reticent to discuss: what happens when automation and artificial intelligence make human labor obsolete? Deprived of a middle class, how will today’s data-driven, surveillance dependent economic system survive? For Le Monde, French Canadian philosopher Pierre Desjardins offers a lucid explanation of how the sale of surveillance-based consumer purchasing data and the construction of profiles on the buying habits of every one of us has turned capitalism on its head, and what the ramifications are likely to be for the global economy unless we so something.
For Le Monde, Pierre Desjardins begins by explaining why, rather than being free, the ramifications of the data we provide by searching for information may soon impoverish much of the global population.
Inasmuch as we search for information that is seemingly “gratis,” we also provide it. In fact, we supply these Web servers with an incredible amount. Innocently enticed into the bosom of free information, we are at once judiciously formatted into carefully sketched profiles via Internet algorithms.
Subsequently, these composite profiles are fashioned by the servers to be sold to companies. The capital gain now consists of the number of potential buyers of goods and services that a server can sell to businesses. The work of these servers consequently consists, therefore, in seducing is yet further by providing us with ever more free information.
The game of supply and demand has been displaced. It now exists in between Internet servers and enterprises of production. And soon it will be much more than a simple targeted customer database that these servers offer to meet the demands of these enterprises of production: it will be artificial intelligence as well. Note that Google alone now spends $10 billion a year on this. And that’s only the beginning.
As for us, who have already been transformed into mere sales products, our freedom risks being even further reduced. Most of the work will be done less and less by human beings as it was under traditional capitalism, but by artificial intelligence. That means therefore, that it is not only our role as consumers which will escape us, but that of workers as well.
Historically, let’s remember that it is the creation of the middle class and its access to consumption that saved capitalism from what Marx identified in his time as an economic system necessarily doomed to failure. So the question on the horizon is: in the long term, will this inverted form of capitalism allow for the maintenance of a sufficiently prosperous middle class? If the development of artificial intelligence allows us to envisage less expensive production in the near future, will it be financially beneficial to the entire population, or will that remain the prerogative of the priests of the Internet and the major corporations?
It is hard to see what the purpose of civil servants, translators, insurance agents, brokers, salespersons, teachers and even (why not?) lawyers, doctors and pharmacists will be in two or three decades: all these jobs are being progressively replaced by artificial intelligence. All that will remain are modest manual or low-paid trades like those pursued by artists or craftsman.
If things go on as they appear to be, one can already foresee that this form of inverted capitalism will eradicate much of the current middle class by tipping it into a no man’s land. Without employment this vast class will no longer be able to afford luxury of any kind. Deprived of so much of its added value as a source of profit, will this economic system remain viable?
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William Kern, founder of www.worldmeets.us, is the inventor of trans-copyediting, a system for checking the accuracy of translated copy into multiple languages. Since 2005, managing a team of dedicated volunteer translators, Kern has edited, packaged and posted thousands of columns of news and opinion about America from publications around the world and from every major language, including Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Polish, Swedish, Spanish, Hungarian and Farsi. From the height of the Iraq war to the annexation of Crimea right up to today, Kern and his team have provided intelligence to the American people by opening up a whole new media world.
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